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Darfur peace talks miss a deadline but are extended

NAIROBI, Kenya—International mediators couldn't persuade rebels from Sudan's Darfur region to sign a peace proposal before Tuesday night's deadline, but a senior U.S. diplomat said he'd continue talks Wednesday.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who flew overnight from Washington to reach the talks in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday morning, said he'd stay at least one more day, but "beyond that I don't know." Mediators have extended the deadline by 48 hours.

Zoellick, British diplomat Hilary Benn and an array of international envoys met all day with rebel leaders and representatives of Sudan's government, hoping to reach consensus on a deal to end a three-year war that's claimed more than 200,000 lives.

Sudan's government on Sunday backed a peace plan drafted by mediators from the intergovernmental African Union. But representatives of Darfur's leading rebel groups—who took up arms against Sudan's Arab regime in 2003 seeking greater political rights—called the plan unsatisfactory.

Seven previous rounds of peace negotiations over the last two years made scant headway. But worsening humanitarian conditions and increasing public pressure in the United States have contributed to a make-or-break mentality at these negotiations. Rebel leaders have said they feel that the international community is pressuring them to sign the deal.

That pressure is likely to intensify as the leaders of several other African countries—including South Africa, Egypt and Senegal—join the negotiations in Abuja. The officials are expected to arrive by Thursday.

The rebels want a bigger share of Sudan's wealth, more of their troops integrated into the national security forces and increased political representation, including one of Sudan's two vice president positions.

The rebels and government negotiators also differ on the specifics of disarming the Arab militias known as the janjaweed, which Sudan armed to quell the rebel uprising. The militias have since unleashed a murderous campaign against Darfur villagers that the United States has labeled genocide.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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